Sloppy Indians huff and puff past Pakistan

Chhetri goal seals victory for hosts

Sloppy Indians huff and puff past Pakistan

Possession has come to be regarded as the king in football but that revolution has sadly bypassed India – at least for the time being. 

The Indian Under-23 side did manage to beat their Pakistan counterparts 1-0 in a friendly here at the Bangalore Football Stadium on Sunday, but their performance resembled one from a bunch of first-timers being introduced to the game. 

Robin Singh, who plays like a millionaire one day before playing like a pauper the next, portrayed both those roles in the space of 25 minutes. After creating Sunil Chhetri’s goal in the 44th minute, he was given the marching orders following a second yellow for a stray elbow in the 69th minute.

The Indian side, led by Chhetri, who started on the left of a three pronged attack, also had Robin and Francis Fernandes, in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The visitors lined up in a more orthodox 4-4-2 with captain Kaleem Ullah playing a withdrawn role, supporting Abdul Salam.

Pakistan, who kicked off, started the brighter off the two sides and were sharper in getting to the 50-50s. Their high backline also meant that their custodian, Saqib Hanif, was playing as a sweeper-keeper. 

The Indian side, buoyed by the home fans who had turned out in large numbers, played themselves in as the first stanza wore on but they lacked inspiration.  Passes were almost always overcooked, long diagonals were hit in hope rather than with certainty and some of the first touches on display were so poor, the second had to be a tackle. 

India, though, did engineer two good chances in the first half – the first fell to midfielder Lalrindika Ralte whose first time effort from close range was tipped behind by the goalkeeper. Minutes later, a loose parry from the ’keeper set Chhetri free but he only managed to find Saqib’s outstretched left leg.  The home side were thankful for an on-the-line clearance from centre-back Joyner Lourenco following a goalmouth melee moments before Robin’s near post flick from a Ralte corner set up a tap-in for Chhetri for the only goal of the game. There was some confusion regarding who got the goal as Robin was claiming it but it was eventually awarded to the skipper.

Both teams rung in the changes in the second half and India were content to sit on the break following Robin’s dismissal. 

Pakistan, who were the width of a crossbar away from levelling proceedings late in the game, rallied and probably should have scored after substitute Muhammad Zeeshan sent Kaleem clear but his hurried right-foot effort went wide off the far post.
 On the evidence of this performance, and their results over the course of the last few months, the Indian team’s stay in Incheon will be short but not sweet.

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